SXSW capsule review: ‘Joe’
Remember that annoying kid in “American Beauty” who films the plastic bag and yammers on about how gorgeous it is and you think yes it is lovely and you have a good eye for the allue of the quotidian but can you please shut up before you get punched?
David Gordon Green is that guy minus the self-congratulatory junk.
He and longtime cinematograhper Tim Orr love the look of light in nature as much as anyone working today and boy, do they deliver it in the often gorgeous, often despairing “Joe,” shot around Austin and Bastrop and based on the 1991 novel by Southern realist Larry Brown.
As played by an excellent Nicholas Cage, Joe Ransom knows who he is. In charge of work crew whose semi-legal job it is to poison trees so they can be felled for a lumber company (they can’t be cut down, they have to die “naturally”), he runs his crew fairly and knows that, with a criminal past and a fondness for booze, he needs to keep an eye on his own penchant for trouble.
Into his life wanders Gary (Tye Sheridan), a badly neglected and abused teenager trying to support his nearly-destitute family, which is headed by an alcoholic father, Wade (an astonishing performance from homeless Austinite Gary Poulter, who had long struggled with addiction and died last February).
Joe reluctantly lets Gary join the crew, who are totally fine with him as long as he works hard, which he does.
“Keep it real with Joe,” says the foreman, played by Sam’s BBQ owner Brian May. Members of the work crew were played by local day laborers, bits involving them feel improvised, per Gordon’s style in “George Washington,” “All the Real Girls” and parts of “Prince Avalanche.”
Sheridan, who in his young career has already worked with Green, Jeff Nichols on “Mud” and Terrence Malick in “Tree of Life,” is terrific as Gary, w while Green moves the plot along with his typically elliptical hand.
Cage turns in his strongest work in years, his natural oddness subsumed under a Brown-like, lower-working-class persona. Ronnie Gene Blevins plays nominal bad guy/plot engine but the crime aspect feels second to a well-executed, beautifully shot look at various struggles around class, opportunity and crushing rural poverty.